Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taking Heaven by Force

Intense prayer in S. Korea
Some people are opposed to intense prayer, and they feel it is completely unnecessary.  They feel that it is rude and ungodly behavior.  But I want to show you from God's Word today that when you pray fervently, earnestly, intensely and with focused faith, your prayers are much more powerful. Jesus spoke of this, as recorded in Luke 16:16 and Matthew 11:12.  So let's take a close look at both of those passages.

According to Luke
Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is being preached and everyone is forcing his way into it” (Luke 16:16).  Some people teach this passage to mean that in Jesus day and now there were bad guys who thought incorrectly that they could force their way into the kingdom.  However, the Greek word for pressing into it is biazitai.  It is nearly always used in the middle despondent tense.  According to the Bauer-Arndt-Gingritch Greek Lexicon, this word may either have a bad connotation of something being violently treated or a good one.  There is a wealth of information found in that Lexicon on page 140.  Among other possible meanings, it may mean:

“to occupy by force”
“is sought with burning zeal”
“makes its way with triumphant force”

Repentance is much like this, rather than a passive act carried out almost imperceptibly while in a neutral state.  It is a radical change of mind, and that’s the first step to entering the Kingdom.   We enter the Kingdom through repentance and faith, and biazitai depicts the forceful, zealous nature of that entrance.  In fact, as Luke recorded within the same grammatical context, Jesus taught, “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). 

Biazitai may also be understood as the “genteel constraint imposed on a reluctant guest.”  In other words, it may mean to invite urgently.  See Judges 13:15 and Genesis 33:11 for examples.  Any of these good connotations fit well with the context of the Luke 16:16 passage. 

All we have to do is go to Luke 14 to find the man who prepared a banquet.  Did he not use “genteel constraint imposed on reluctant guests.”  Yes, he did.  He sent his servant to tell his invited guests, “Come, for everything is ready.” (Luke 14:17)  In the end when they refused his genteel constraint, did he not in burning zeal send his servant to “bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame?” (Luke 14:21)  Yes, and when there was room for more guests, did he not tell his servant to go and “make them come in”?  Yes, he did.  This was Jesus way of illustrating the “feast in the kingdom of God.”  The burning zeal with which the host invited his guests illustrated the preaching of the gospel.  So did the forceful way he sent his servant to “make” more of them come in.

Or for additional context, we may refer to Luke 15 where we see the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  Were they not invited urgently and sought with burning zeal?  Yes, they were! Did they not make there way with triumphant force?  Yes, they did!! The lost sheep was sought with burning zeal, found with rejoicing, and returned to the flock triumphantly.  This was compared to the repentance of one sinner.  The lost coin was also sought with burning zeal, found with rejoicing, and returned to the owner triumphantly.  This also was compared to the repentance of one sinner.  The lost son was sought with burning zeal, as his father ran to him while he was still a long way off.  He was found by his father with rejoicing and celebration, and returned to his home triumphantly. 

As Luke went on to record in chapter 16, Jesus did not say the Kingdom of God is being preached and many are trying to force their way into it.  He actually said, “Everyone is forcing his way into it”.  I think he meant what he said, especially when we consider the context in which it was said.  The “everyone” Jesus referred to was “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” whom he urged his own host to invite when he gave a luncheon (Luke 14:13).  The “everyone” he referred to who was forcing his way into the Kingdom of God was the tax collectors and sinners that “were all gathering around to hear him” (Luke 15:1)

One of those tax collectors was a short man named Zacchaeus.  In fact, he was a chief tax collector, and we know that tax collectors were despised for their corruption.  But despite this man’s vast wealth, he wanted to see Jesus.  In order to do so, he “ran ahead” of the crowd and “climbed” a tree.  This corrupt man was seeking Jesus with burning zeal.  And when Jesus reached the spot where he was, the Lord looked up at him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).  The Greek here indicates that Jesus said, “Hurry! Come down!”  There was urgency, genteel constraint, and an insistence in Jesus’ request.  Zacchaeus came down at once, and welcomed Jesus gladly.  He didn’t hesitate for a moment, indicating his burning zeal.  When Jesus went to this man’s home, people said, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  But Zacchaeus stood up and repented wholeheartedly, offering full restitution to the victims of his extortion (Luke 19:8).  Here was another violent man who pressed into the Kingdom and made his way with triumphant force. Jesus said salvation had come to his house that day, and that it was lost men like this one that he had come to save.

According to Matthew
Before we look at the companion passage found in Matthew 11:12, read the chapters preceding Matthew 11, and you will see numerous examples of people laying hold of the kingdom with burning zeal or triumphant force.  This is a perfect example of understanding a verse in its proper, larger context:

Matthew 8:2 - The leper
Matthew 8:6 – The centurion
Matthew 9:2 – The paralytic
Matthew 9:18 – The ruler
Matthew 9:20 – The hemorrhaging woman
Matthew 9:27 – The blind man
These people stood in stark contrast to that fickle and impenitent generation, who on the one hand complained that John the Baptist was too straight-laced and on the other hand complained that Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:18,19). 

Now we come to the companion passage in Matthew’s gospel.  Since the two inspired writers were recording the same incident where Jesus spoke these words, we can better understand what Jesus meant by cross-referencing the passages.  Here’s a comparison of Matthew’s record and Luke’s record of Jesus' words:

Matthew's Record Luke's Record
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John The Law and the Prophets proclaimed until John
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached
Forceful men lay hold of it Everyone is forcing his way into it

Matthew 11:12 – “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  The main difference in this passage is that instead of saying “everyone is forcing his way into” the kingdom, the term “forceful men” is used.  The term here for forceful men is biastas.  Whenever this term is used it is in a bad sense to mean violent, impetuous men.  This could be viewed as a reference to the fact that sinners were the ones repenting and entering the kingdom, not the righteous.  Was Jesus pointing out here that these violent impetuous people are laying hold of the kingdom now since the time of John the Baptist?  I happen to think so. It is not those who are righteous in their own eyes that are entering the kingdom, it is the sinners.  It is not the healthy that Christ came to save, but the sick.  There’s more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7). 

Once again, please note that Jesus did not say the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men try to lay hold of it. He actually said, “Forceful men lay hold of it.” I think he meant what he said.  If there is any question about what it means to “lay hold” of the kingdom, we can refer to the companion passage in Luke to see it means “press into it”.  If these men were simply trying to enter through some unauthorized means of violence, then they would never have successfully entered as Jesus said they did.

Determining the meaning of the phrase “lay hold of it” is further aided by a Greek word study.  The single word harpazo is used in the Matthew 11:12 passage, so let’s take a moment to see what it means. 

The Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states on p. 472 of volume I:
Since harpazo does not here mean either to bring in by force or to plunder, only three alternatives are open in the difficult saying at Matthew 11:12 [emphasis mine].  a. It may mean that the kingdom of God is stolen, i.e., taken away from men and closed to them; b. it may mean that violent men culpably try to snatch it to themselves; or c. it may mean that men forcefully take it in a good sense [emphasis mine].  Linguistically all three are possible.  The first and third are to be taken most seriously.  The former is suggested by the emphatic use of biazomai, by the correspondence between biazetai and biastai and perhaps by the Matthean context.  The latter is supported by the fact that the decisively new thing since the appearance of John the Baptist is the powerful irruption of the kingdom of God.  This is the presupposition for its being taken.  It demands resolute earnestness on the part of men if they are to enter it [emphasis mine].  Furthermore, the idea of men themselves taking away the kingdom of God is strange and is hardly supported by such parallels as Mt. 13:19, where the evil one snatches away the seed and not the kingdom, or Mt. 23:13, where closing the kingdom to men is not quite the same as taking it away.

So while Kittel’s Dictionary acknowledges the difficulty in determining the meaning of harpazo in this Matthew 11:12 passage, it supports the meaning that men forcefully take the Kingdom in a good sense.  Likewise, the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon acknowledges the difficulty in determining the meaning of harpazo in this particular passage. But it points out that the use of harpazo beside the word biasein probably means something like “seize” or “claim for oneself.”  Both these reputable and scholarly works help us to better understand the meaning of harpazo. 

Let’s return now to our comparison of the Matthew and Luke passages, aided by the table above.  When we carefully interpret these two companion passages in their proper context, and rely on each one to interpret the other, we find that Jesus basically spoke of two things that were successfully happening: 1) The first one was a good thing, which was that the kingdom of heaven was forcefully advancing.  This was happening through the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.  Jesus clearly said, “the Kingdom of God is being preached.” 2) The second thing was that “everyone is forcing his way into it.” Or as Matthew phrased it under the anointing of the Spirit, “Forceful men lay hold of it.”  There is no reason to believe that this second thing that was successfully happening did not also have a good connotation.  Why was it good?  It was good because up until John the Baptist started preaching, all the prophets and the Law prophesied about this day. Now it was actually coming to pass! 

If we read this in context, I think this interpretation fits quite clearly.  Jesus was still responding to those the imprisoned John had sent to him asking if He was the one who was to come, or whether they should expect someone else.  Jesus was clearly saying that the Prophets and the Law had prophesied or spoken in advance about this day and now it was coming to pass.  What a wonderful report to send back to John to answer his questioning mind.  The “blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5). 

It’s often good to ask the question, “Why did the inspired Bible writer record this at this point in the text?”  We may ask this about verse 5 as was just mentioned and about verse 12, where he records Jesus saying, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  In answer to the question why Matthew recorded these statements at this point, first they were all part of Jesus’ response to John’s famous question. And secondly, they flow perfectly with Matthew’s previously documented the healings of the leper and centurion (chapter 8), the paralytic, the ruler, the hemorrhaging woman, and the blind man (chapter 9).  It was all good news (11:5 and 11:12), because it was all coming to pass as it had been foretold, and John could rest assured he had not missed the Messiah!

According to brother Yong Doo Kim
I've been blessed by the ministry of Yong-Doo Kim, pastor of The Lord's Church, in Incheon, South Korea. I'd like to share some of the things he says about this subject.  He states, "Sometimes a contemplative prayer is required, but when the person praying is dynamic, strong, and active, the Lord will powerfully work in us. The Lord often shouts to us, 'If you powerfully pray with a mind of a warrior, rather than in a contemplative way, I will become exclusive in your life!' The type of prayer that will make the Lord exclusive to us! The type of prayer in which forceful people can take the Holy treasures from heaven. The prayer that shouts in tongues all throughout the night with passion, which never wearies and perseveres. In heaven, there are many treasures a forceful people can take.

Putting it All Together
I strongly agree with brother Yong-Doo Kim, of the Lord's Church in South Korea, who says, "The violent take the kingdom by prayer...Your faith can change everything. You can take bread and fish, attack the Kingdom like a bank!"

We know that scholars have disagreed for centuries over the meaning of this passage.  But the correct interpretation of this passage can be rendered by studying the historical and grammatical context.

Its meaning is full of importance to us today.  It speaks of our Messiah, the good news about Him, His Kingdom, and how we enter it.  It shows how, once we enter the Kingdom of heaven, it causes violence on the inside of us, as we stir up that glory -- that resident power on the inside of us.  In this way, the violent take by force from the enemy that which is ours in Christ.  Through our powerful prayers, we possess our inheritance that God promised us. These are fundamental aspects of our Christian faith, and the passage is a great example of why we need to rightly divide the word of truth.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like "Crying Out Loudly to God."  Also see the following:

Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Link Between Two Realms
Holy Fire Baptism
The Spirit is Willing
Lifting Hands in Prayer
Holy Living in a Perverted World

You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."  

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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